Four Reasons Why Leaders Don’t Take Action

The external environment is changing; we are living in the “New Normal”. The business is falling behind and weakening. Yet, nothing happens. No change takes place. Critical issues are not addressed. The leadership continues to do what it has always done.

But, why? Why aren’t the business leaders taking action to change their business model and get their company back on track? Undoubtedly, the leaders are working hard and want to succeed. So, what is stopping them from facing the problems head on?

In short, why do they procrastinate?


1.  The leaders don’t detect the problem – Boiled Frog Syndrome
According to this anecdote, a boiled frog that is placed into a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out. A boiled frog that is placed in a pot of cold water that is then heated will not notice the gradual difference in temperature. This frog will not jump out and will eventually die. Likewise, many leaders may not notice the gradual deterioration of their business and believe that nothing has changed. “Yes, sales are down. But, it is just the economy.” These leaders continue to see the reality of the world and their business as it might have been several years ago. Without an obvious reason for change, they won’t.

2.  The leaders are waiting for an external change that will solve their problems – Deus Ex Machina
Deus Ex Machina comes from ancient Greek; it means “god out of the machine”. Deus Ex Machina refers to a plot device in ancient Greek theatre, where a play would be resolved by having one of the Greek Gods appear on stage (either flying in from above dangling from a crane or emerging from below by a riser lifting the god through a trap door). Once on stage, the god would save the good, punish the bad, and make everything all right.
Today, many businesses have run into similar dead ends and need to be saved. Alas, there is no god coming out of the machine to resolve everything by changing the reality back to the way it was a few years ago. Business leaders need to stop waiting for the housing market to recover, for the economy to turn around, for the government to fix Health Care, Medicare, you name it. Business leaders need to stop waiting for their problems to be solved. Instead, they need to start taking take the action to fix and grow their businesses in the cold, hard business reality that now exists.

3.  The leaders are uncomfortable or fear the change and what it brings – Comfort Junkies
By nature, leaders, like everyone else, get into routines of what they do on a daily basis. They usually stay within this comfort zone as a way to reduce stress, to be reassured, and because it is easier. Taking action to address the changed critical issues and to change the business is hard. It requires more work (which usually is not a problem) and it requires different work (doing different things that you as the leader may not be good at).

Further, it is risky. There is no certainty that the change will be successful. And if it is successful, then the change may mean that the leaders lose power, position and prestige as the new skill set required to lead the business no longer matches their skill set. Alas, as leaders we are not paid to do what we like to do, we are paid to do the right thing for the business. We are paid to get uncomfortable. We are paid to take a professional risk. We are paid to drive our businesses to success.

4.  The leaders are too busy and do not have enough time to bring about change – Lack of Priorities
For other leaders, it is all a matter of time. They would change if only they had more time. Sorry, but lack of time is just an excuse. If you know that your business needs to change. If you know that your business will not be magically changed by some different external circumstances. And if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and confront the fear and uncertainty that the change might bring. Then finding the time to get the right change done will be easy. Prioritize on this most important of tasks (adapting your business to the new strategic reality), and you will have plenty of time to get it done.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Perform / Execution and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Four Reasons Why Leaders Don’t Take Action

  1. Mick says:

    Great article David, much food for thought.

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